The Battle for Elephant Pass

The Battle for Elephant Pass

14th July 1991 to 9th August 1991

Elephant Pass (EPS) occupies a strategically vital position, the gateway linking the Jaffna peninsula to the Northern mainland. In 1991, the Sri Lankan military was in control of only two regions in the Jaffna peninsula: the High-Security Zone in Palaly and Elephant Pass. This was after the military withdrew from the Jaffna Fort in September 1990. The Army had one main camp and four satellite camps at EPS occupying an area of 10km in width and 23 km long.

  • The battle for Elephant Pass was the most violent, bitter and bloody armed confrontation that took place between the Sri Lanka Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Eelam War 2.
  • The LTTE for the first time mobilised its fighting units in a conventional mode of warfare.

The attack on the camp

  • The attack began with artillery fire directed at the outer defence positions of the army camp at EPS.
  • Following this, the LTTE cadres stormed and penetrated the army defences on the Southern axis approaching from Paranthan.
  • The vehicle used was a massive ironclad bulldozer resistant to missiles used by the army at that time. This bulldozer had been captured from the cement factory in Kankasenturai (KKS) and later modified by fixing thick iron plates on its exterior to protect those within the vehicle from enemy fire. This improvisation had been done in their “armoury” in the Wanni.

The fate of the armoured vehicle

The vehicle went past the forward defences and was approaching the camp. No missile could stop the movement of the vehicle. A lone soldier realising the danger to the camp if it proceeded any further reached the rear of the vehicle, scaled the ladder fixed to the vehicle and hauled a grenade into the bulldozer. With the explosion of the grenade, four LTTE cadres inside the bulldozer were killed. The vehicle went off the road crashed onto a house within the camp and came to a halt. Fierce fighting continued and the soldier who managed to stop the vehicle moving any further died in the cross-fire.


Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne of the 6th Battalion of the Sinha Regiment of the Sri Lanka Army

The massive ironclad bulldozer that penetrated the forward defence line at Elephant Pass

White Arrow – Ladder   Red Arrow- The point where the grenade was lobbed into the bulldozer

I was able to go up the ladder and peep through the opening to see four perishing ‘bodies’ inside the bulldozer (The first and the only civilian to get that opportunity)

Attack from the North of Elephant Pass

While the ‘armoured bulldozer’ approached from the South, two similar but smaller ‘armoured vehicles’ of the LTTE approached from the North almost at the same time. The army was able to destroy these two vehicles with the use of Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) which penetrated the armour-plated vehicles bringing them to a halt at the forward defence line of EPS itself.

Impending danger of losing the Elephant Pass camp

Although the movement of the ‘armoured vehicles’ was brought to a halt, fighting continued and there was an impending danger of losing this strategically important camp. The leader of the LTTE was confident of victory and declared the ‘Mother of all Battles” and used all the men and material at hand. The loss of the EPS camp would have been disastrous militarily and politically. The most urgent and immediate need was to rescue the besieged troops eight hundred in number.

Rescue mission

A massive rescue operation was launched on 14th July 1991. The only route to approach EPS was from the east via Vettilaikerni. The military launched the largest amphibious assault in its history.

  • Thousands of troops landed on the beaches of Vettilaikerni about 12 km East of Elephant Pass.
  • Amidst heavy resistance from the LTTE, the troops reached the Elephant Pass camp after 18 days.
  • The fighting continued till the 9th of August when finally the LTTE made a tactical withdrawal after suffering heavy losses amounting to over 500 cadres. The army lost over 200 soldiers while there are no official figures of the number injured.
  • The injured were treated at the Palaly Hospital. Some were dispatched directly to Anuradhapura General Hospital by helicopter for emergency care.
  • The Military and all Sri Lankans celebrated the victory at EPS

During my visit to EPS after the military operation, I was able to take some unique photos of WAR-TORN EPS. These together with the photos displayed earlier are from my collection of photos from theWar-front and I believe these are of historical interest now!


Some scenes around the Elephant Pass camp


Dear Reader, If you haven’t read my earlier story, you can read by clicking this following link : “A Tribute by the Jaffna Medical Association – 1999′

You also might be interested in watching some of our other photo gallery links are given here : ‘WAR FRONT – 1’‘WAR FRONT – 2’ / ‘PHOTO GALLERY – PICTORIAL JOURNEY OF SURGERY’ / ‘MY LIFE’ / ‘SPORTS’

15 thoughts on “The Battle for Elephant Pass

  1. These are extraordinary photographs . The opportunities you got from them to see sites and vehicles shows the amount of esteem they had for you. Our gratitude to you for allowing us to see these. The Hasalaka hero should remain in our hearts for ever.

  2. Gallantry of a Soldier, Hasalaka Gamini through the lenses & narration by an equally brave Surgeon.
    Dear Doc, I was of the view SLA had to withdraw completely from E/Pass and later re-capture as the water supply to the camp had been cut off.
    Annyway, the story brings a message to those who did not witness the war.
    “Need the strength to do the possible”
    “Faith while doing the impossible”
    Bless all soldiers who did the impossible & you our dear Surgeon another Gamini.

  3. The story reminds us of the dark days and the great sacrifices made by the armed forces in the battle field and the Police ,to save the country.

  4. You are unbelievable. Historian, Photo Journalist, Surgeon, Adventurist, Humane and of course an old Joe.
    God bless you and family.

    1. dr. gamini is one in all. god bless him and the hasalaka suraya. have we any more of these people to save sri lanka

  5. A great reciting of facts. It was very sad to hear the fate of soldier Kularatne. It was a case of cometh the situation cometh the hero. It was very fitting that the highest honour of the military was awarded to Kularatne in the performance of his act of bravery.
    The photographs went well with the story.

  6. Dear Gamin
    I always read your articles with pride and joy. You being a Joephian is pride for all Joes!!! I commend you for your dedication to your country and to your profession.
    You certainly are a great man indeed.

  7. It is almost unbelievable that the gentle surgeon I knew has gone through such ravages of gruesome battle for the sake of our motherland

  8. Dear Dr. Gamini Goonetilleke,
    Event though the history of war is bitter experience, the fact that we ended it is really rejoicing when we think of the final assault of the LTTE leader Prabaharan and his last few bandits at the Nandikadal Lagoon. EPS operation and the attack our forces experienced was a scary one which left many families fatherless including former joined forces Commander General.wanasinghe’s son in’ Law Col. Bathiya Jayatilake.
    Despite the horrendous situation in the battle field, the service you provided was invaluable.In short, you made an excellent contribution equivalent to a that of a senior ranked officer, throughout the war fearlessly in the front.You deserve many gallantry awards as you too are a war Hero who knew all the tactics and faculty of knowledge to save lives with minimum resources. Especially saving legs of many soldiers who were Jony Batta victims in the north and east.
    Thank you doctor for sharing these pictures which will be of great value for those who have not witnessed them.
    Whilst wishing you all the very best in your future endeavors, I pray that the God will bless you with all the happiness and good health during many more years to come.

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